It is a given that, at any extended family gathering, somebody is going to have the mole-with-the-hair-in-it thing going on. The kind of arrangement that acts as a gaze-magnet during small talk, mesmerising even as it repels.
Like a hippo crossing a frozen lake, I need to tread carefully here.
I have two half-Vietnamese children, a pathologically stoic Vietnamese partner of twelve years, a small army of Vietnamese in-laws and no wish at all to seem an ungracious recent guest in that most enchanting (and fattening - what food) of countries - indeed, all the uncles, aunts and cousins-in-law I met for the first time on that trip were without exception warm, sparkly and generous-spirited folk.
But sweet lord those hairy moles.
During my uncle-in-law’s 84th birthday shindig in Ho Chi Minh City they were coming at me from every angle.
Maybe it wasn’t there was so many of them - just the pride with which those on show were displayed. These mole-hairs seemed well-tended. One or two achieved such a state of quivering lustre that back-combing surely must have been involved. Some reached great lengths that would put a hipster’s beard to shame.
It turns out the things are considered lucky.
Big ears are a sign of a long life, lobe length and density paramount when it comes to measuring wisdom and wellbeing.
The story goes that Quan Am (in Chinese Quan Yin), later to become female Buddhist deity supreme, was at one time married to some rich dude who had himself a doozy of a hairy mole, right on the kisser. And when Quan Am took a pair of scissors to it (while he lay sleeping), hoping to surprise hubby with a makeover, he woke up and naturally assumed she was trying to kill him. Whereupon she was banished, took to impersonating a (male) monk, got accused of impregnating a village maiden and was subsequently beaten to death by an angry mob.
So hairy moles are lucky, see.
The Vietnamese (besides many other Asian cultures) have a whole bunch of beliefs around physical characteristics.
Big ears are a sign of a long life, lobe length and density paramount when it comes to measuring wisdom and wellbeing. Buddha was blessed, of course, with a chunky pair. (Whether a version of this belief underpins the recent, otherwise mystifying trend for ear-stretchers remains unclear).
The size, shape and design of a nose are indicators of financial destiny. A nice bulbous hooter with narrow, pinched nostrils (to minimise wealth leakage) is the mark of a high earner.
My own stunted little lugholes and cavernous nostrils may be cause for concern.
I’ve every intention of getting down with traditions as much as possible.
Anyone with a double “whorl” or crown in their hair is believed to be quick-tempered, stubborn and belligerent, all tied up in the Vietnamese expression “hung dữ”, which loosely translates as “ferocious”.
Our seven-year-old daughter has a double-crown, and she certainly has her moments.
I’ve also heard that a freckle (or “beauty spot”) beneath the eye portends a life of heartache and disappointment. My long-suffering partner has two.
This stuff can start to seem pretty persuasive after a while.
Still, while it was heartening to be welcomed into the bosom of the Vietnamese family, and I’ve every intention of getting down with traditions as much as possible, should any of my own moles or skin-tags sprout a quiff as I continue my steepening descent into middle-age, I’ll know just what to do.
Take my chances and reach for the tweezers, thanks all the same.